Tim: Friday evening, as Laura was settling in at the Hershey Theatre for a production of the national tour of Matilda, her phone buzzed. News of the terror attacks in France was getting out. We have clients across Europe, among them friends in Paris. Since there was plenty of time til the show was scheduled to start, Laura logged into her Facebook app to try and touch base with her Parisian pals.
Later, she told me her fear at the time was not being able to make contact at all. It was already well after midnight in Paris, hardly the time to find friends on Facebook’s Messenger app.
Fortunately, most of the people she was looking for had already used Facebook’s new “Safety Check” to let their Facebook friends know they were OK.
Team Zuckerberg launched Safety Check in October, but the disaster-related check-in tool traces its origins to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of Japan. With more than 12 million people affected – nearly half a million evacuated – social media quickly became the go-to resource for families trying to find one another, and make sure loved ones were OK.
Facebook’s engineers in Japan quickly developed a “disaster message board,” and since then, they’ve tweaked their work a few times. Now, with Safety Check, they’ve worked out a relatively simple approach to connecting friends in an emergency.
With user information available to Facebook, including checking in, current IP address and mobile data, the system can identify affected users during an emergency. In the event of an emergency, nearby Facebook users receive an alert asking them if they are in a disaster area and if they would like to report themselves as “safe.” A big green button – “Yes I’m Safe” – lets Facebook friends know that you are OK.
Facebook has revolutionized how we interact with one another. As we share information about ourselves, Facebook has created a boon to marketers, allowing people with a product, service or cause to reach those people we think are most receptive to our pitch. While this technology comes with its own contretemps, I think lifting the burden of worry from friends is a wonderful use of the technology, and I am grateful that Facebook has it in place.